Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

The District 202 School Board is considering a policy change that would drop the 2.0-GPA requirement for participating in extracurricular activities. The shift represents an effort to get more students engaged in school and to provide greater access to academic supports that come along with such participation. The discussion at the Sept.11 School Board meeting met with mixed opinions about whether such a change would help students or lower the achievement bar.

“We have been examining our policies and procedures to find out how we can get more students of color involved,” said Evanston Township High School Principal Marcus Campbell. During an annual policy review, he said, policy 6.190 was looked at to see if changes could help “enhance the student experience at ETHS.”

Current policy states that students must have a 2.0 GPA the semester prior to participating in activities that include “athletics, public competitions or performances,” that they shall maintain a passing grade in at least four classes during the semester of participation, and that they shall adhere to the ETHS Extracurricular Activity Code. The Activity Code outlines expectations for behavior, conduct, and good decision-making.

The proposed policy states that students shall “meet IHSA [Illinois High School Association] requirements” of passing at least five classes the semester prior to and during the activity and adhere to the ETHS Extracurricular Activity Code. Grades of student participants are monitored on a weekly basis. Anyone receiving two C-minuses is required to attend three sessions of support per week (AM Support, WildKit Academy, 40 minutes in a homework center, for example) and any student receiving Ds or Fs must attend four sessions of support per week. Any participant who fails to meet the requirements will be suspended from the activity until requirements are met. 

“While instructional programs build knowledge, skills and attitudes relevant to college, career, and independence after high school, ETHS recognizes the value of extracurricular activities extending and enhancing these, as well as increasing students’ positive engagement with school life,” said Dr. Campbell. “In addition, extracurricular activities contribute to the development of a set of valuable social skills and identity formation among students that help strengthen the learning environment and lead to social-emotional wellbeing, increased academic engagement and many avenues of success after high school.”

Dr. Campbell said about 1,000 students at ETHS do not participate in anything: 373 black, 273 Latinx, and 306 white.

“We are more than our GPAs,” Taya Kinzie, Associate Principal for Student Services, said a student once told her. “Students are complicated,” Ms. Kinzie said, adding that the policy change would be “an increase in early intervention. The more eyes on you, the better off you are. We know the more people doing that the better the student will do. Our commitment is to use our equity lens.”

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said the new policy, “goes beyond IHSA.”

Mixed Reactions from the Board

Board member Jonathan Baum said he believes the new policy is worth a try. “The most important thing I’ve heard is that it’s an intervention. We believe participation increases success. What we are doing is testing that belief. We will be monitoring it. This is a step worth trying.”

Board member Pat Maunsell said she applauded the idea. “We want to connect with every single kid in the building. Doing this is critical to making sure that happens. We’d be addressing the needs right away, not just at [the end of the] semester.”

“I think for some it feels like there is an accountability in seeking high expectations,” said Board member Monique Parsons. “The concern I have is removing the accountability of GPA. I’m still on the fence with this. After high school, students know they have to be eligible. We are talking about students of color and how we prepare them for life. I’m not opposed to allowing kids to try out or participate in practice, but if they are not achieving in the classroom, they should not be able to represent the school on the playing field.”

“I appreciate that,” replied Dr. Campbell. “We have spent hours talking about what you just said. This is what we came to: We are committed to the supports, high expectations and accountability.”

Board member Jude Law expressed concerns as well. “Research does indicate those more involved have a tendency to do better academically, but is this lowering expectations? How prepared are they going to be to transition? What message are we sending about priorities? I need a closer look; I’m on the fence as well.”

At-risk indicators are monitored all year for all students regardless of participation, said Evangeline Semark, Director of Communications and Engagement. “We are not proposing to get rid of the 2.0 benchmark but are suggesting the requirement be removed. … We are looking at the whole student. Attendance is a huge part of being successful academically. It helps to have something to look forward to after school.”

Other Board members pointed to the hazards of excluding kids from activities.

“What we are doing is reverting to IHSA standards,” said Board member Gretchen Livingston. “We’ve taken a closer look and decided that instead of helping students, making a higher bar, we’ve cut off a group of students from something we know will help them succeed. We are not lowering anything. It is enabling our kids who were cut off. How do they create support group with adults or fellow students? We haven’t closed the achievement gap, so we have to keep trying things, and this is one piece of that puzzle.”

“Every time we have a line we draw, kids are excluded,” said Assistant Superintendent Peter Bavis. “The folks most hurt here are those below the 2.0; they suffer because they are excluded. The cumulative effect is devastating.”

“You can’t legislate excellence; otherwise, why not make the cut off 3.2 or even higher?” said Dr. Witherspoon. “Instead we have to change how we do business. Do I believe this is a magic bullet – no. But we must get away from the idea that we legislate excellence. We continue to put more supports in place and earlier intervention. Extracurriculars are an intervention. I think it’s worth the effort. We have to change the way we do business or we will continue to get the same results.”

The Board will continue to talk about this suggestion, said Board President Pat Savage-Williams.